Caricatures of Religious Sentiment: 1

I’m going to do something crazy. Serialize the narrating of my inner unfolding in a shamelessly autobiographical manner. This is my truth and intimate meaning. I do not care if it offends, but that is light years away from my intention.

Fragment 1 — Five Year-Old Kid

I was always just about the youngest. 5 entering first grade, not 6 till late October after the sun was colored by Scorpio and the winds of mystery threatened the colorful clinging leaves jeweling woodlands all around me. It was Mother who pushed for the Catholic school. Dad didn’t have conviction either way. Neither did Mom, I eventually worked out. It was just that she was young and Irish and not inclined to buck what she took for authority in those days. She didn’t even go to Mass much, because housewiving took its toll during the week, and she needed a break, slept in Sundays. And believe me, I do not criticize here one iota. But when you are a kid you do not entirely grasp why adults sleep late once a week. And depression, if applicable, is not within your worldview. But when it came to her kids she was a vigilant warrior on the matter of ensuring the holiness within their education. And I was the first, so the experiment began.

I don’t remember many of the specifics of very early Cathechismic indoctrination that first year. Just Q&A memorizations. Question 1 was definitely: Who made me? And the sanctioned response: God made me. Question 2 was: Why did God make me? Because he loves me. After that my memory disintegrates. Not cause I wasn’t bright. I was. Maybe too bright. It is because, I eventually figured out, the whole delivery and engagement mechanism for the subject of religion was memorization. Nothing expansive, like discussions or details about how, etc. But I did succeed in auto-stimulating my imagination in this realm that first year. It was because of the pictures, and the architecture. We had classes in the basement of the church in the beginning, and would head upstairs once in awhile to sit in those oaken pews with the scattering wafts of enormous beeswax candles. Huge paintings of Christ undergoing the various stations. Windows with spectacular blue and red colored images inside them. Saints with gold disks sprouting about their worthy heads. The glowing rows of red votive candle racks for special wish prayers, it was mentioned. The nuns in their severe black and white uniforms, ladies without hair. And the ceilings, God, the rafters! Insufficient light penetrated those heavenly regions making it child’s play to author elaborate ‘true’ fantasies about possible angel faces moving about in the high shadows. Or if one was particularly wholesome that day, maybe it was even possible to glimpse the eye of one of the exalted members of the Trinity.

Two other semi-scriptural concepts lodged in my being by the end of that first year. The first was ‘grace’, a word tossed about by priests and nuns fairly often but without anything approaching a definition. I knew it a supremely pure and good thing though. And pictured it inhabiting the holy golden canister wherein numerous hosts, bodies of Jesus, were stored. I imagined the holiest bestest most love-laden and perfect liquid I could think of. And that was my grandmother’s golden brown gravy poured down in selfless divine altruism upon her sauerbraten or roast beef and mashed potatoes upon occasional wonderful weekend visits. It was thick and brimming with goodness, blessing nostril and taste bud and eyeball. And so it was this that became the visual symbol of Holy Grace for me, my grandmother’s gravy. Heck they even started with the same three letters. Had to be correct. If I could clearly imagine the gravy in its absence, I knew I was in a sanctified mood. This image single-handedly conducted me past a lot of boring drivel in the first year of my exposure to Roman Catholic catechism.

The second abiding concept was the numerology within Genesis. One of the kindlier nuns would tell stories from the first chapter of the Bible. Sporadically reading verbatim that strange and ancient vocabulary, but usually she would just regale us from memory. What stuck? The cosmic mysteries of 12, 7, and 3-ness. Why was it mentioned so pointedly that Joseph’s coat had many colors? And why exactly twelve brothers? It was not lost on my flickering imagination that this was also the quantity of Apostles. And months. And why was it that exactly seven days were utilized by Yahweh for Creation, one as a rest day? Kids were confused by rest. Seven days of the week, and rainbow colors. The number of holy sacraments. Exactly seven times two stations of the Cross. The years of Egyptian famine. (Much later I would learn there were seven cardinal sins.) And three! The wise kings. The members of the Godhead Trinity. The gifts to the Child, the hanging bodies on Calvary. Then there was the arranging of the commandments on those stone tablets handed down to Moses. Three on the left, pertaining to God. And seven on the right, for society and men. When I got a little older this actually became a serious driver for me to move away from the ‘religion’. Not even so much the fact that nobody, priest, mother superior, nun, or even visiting bishop, demonstrated any knowledge as to the significance of these numeric scriptural facts. You know what it was? The absolutely total lack of curiosity about the question. Not a catechism question: so ignore it. God is wise, good, and perfect, and yours is not to ponder why.

Yes! Mine was to ponder why! Deeply. And soon as I possessed enough concepts, I realized that any approach to spirituality which did not honor this human inquisitiveness within me as a core value was not an uncorrupted spiritual legacy at all! That was MY faith. And it was sacred. Like Jefferson said: We hold this truth to be self-evident!

But before dispensing with the Catholic religion altogether, I need to tell you about First Holy Communion and it’s youth-shattering prerequisite: Holy Confession…

_______RS

This tale is to be Continued… The next installment will be linked right here.

[ Image : some enduring obsessions of mine include musical instruments of the world, wildflowers of America’s northeast, and birdsong calls. To lighten the narrative I choose one such example each installment. This is an Indian sarangi. I fell in love with its sound and ambience when I first heard one, aged 17. It is played with a bow, and has been referred to as ‘the voice of a thousand colors’. To hear one: link. ]

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13 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading about your indoctrination into religion. Although I am an atheist, I do find it worthwhile to instill in children/everyone reverence for something worthy of admiration and respect. As a native American, i think I am more in awe of nature (and the sun and water it needs) for its ability to keep reproducing itself — rather than to worship a man-conceived deity that has power to punish/reward me for certain behaviors. 🙂 — yes, i know some would argue that God is the creator of nature but I havent been convinced. — I now walk the path of goodness, acquired by my own ethics (through experience/wisdom) and not what a particular institution has declared is best.

    Reply

    1. I think that seems a good path, the one you have described. And I so agree… the power and ‘kindness’ of nature to persistently sustain us despite our abusiveness is awe-inspiring once one goes beyond the taking-it-for-granted stage. I think love and admiration (and knowledge about, which is another kind of love) for Nature is an excellent vehicle for arousing reverence in children. (It is fun for me to think of you as N.A. — I never thought of you this way before.)

      The path of self-determination within spiritual quest is a critical one in our times, and so I recognize the value of your described ethical journey. When it comes to doctrinal creeds, what you say is true. We must see past the corrupted and stagnant elements which find their origins within human fantasy, misconception, and egotisitical agenda. But that, though considerable in sheer size ad extent, does not constitute the totality of religious spiritual content — which is in fact infinite. So, one must be independent enough to go past the man-conceived elements and discern where their boundaries lie.

      Creation? As in how did Nature arise? My views run like this: As a toddler I was exposed to a body of myth which consisted of kernels of deep truths wrapped within centuries of institutional and political confusion and no-longer understood rituals: Roman Catholic religion. The gist of it being God(s) made the cosmos. When slightly older I was exposed to more carefully disguised bodies of myth purporting to objectively describe the physical and purely material nature and ‘explanation’ for everything: science. Science and religion seem opposed to one another. But actually they are both selectively blind views about reality, with their characteristic set of rules and taboos. As I came to see, science as an institution does not really address the question of origins or meaning but instead tries to cajole one into no longer caring or attaching importance to such “naive” questions.

      What I am thoroughly unconvinced about is the pseudo-scientific narrative deeply entrenched within western culture that the spontaneous and agent-free manifestation of all that we live within in Nature just “is” because of the mystery mechanisms of big bangs and random chance evolution.

      These topics are enormous, so I am forced to only say remarks about tiny aspects of the entire picture.

      Cultivating your own morality out of watchful and reflective experience (instead of inheriting it from an institution) is a deep and special defining quality of humanity, and it is a reflection or hint about all of our mythology concerning gods and creeds. It comes close to touching upon our very identity and purpose.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply

      1. Thank YOU! your response confirms my views and my confusion that exists concerning gods and science. perhaps you should be writing the above in an essay for a widely read audience — in a publication of respect.

      2. Thanks Steph for valuing this. It is not such an unusual set of ideas, the ones I have. It is quite common in various circles. I think that is because it is the right ideas for these times. Some people go the standard essay route. But publications are not what they used to be; they carry less influence. The web has demolished people’s attention spans. I try to reach people with a blend of emotion and reason, thus I often dip into poetry. I aim for quality of readers, not quantity. If someone else assumed the burdens of editing and publishing and dissemenating my stuff, ok… but I doubt I could do those tasks without my writing suffering. 🙂

      3. I agree about people not reading once- popular publications – like they used to. Perhaps, you need to reach them in person. And nowadays alot of us are offended if others impose their views on us. So, maybe you are in the right place.

      4. Maybe. Well, at least it is a good place, and it has helped me articulate myself. Plus aside from that, WP is not the only outlet I am using to explore and express my ideas.

  2. I had an agnostic upbringing but mum used to tell us how the nuns at her Catholic school would hit you for asking questions. I’ve never thought of that .. the numerology aspect. Now you mention it, it’s blindingly obvious. The ultimate question for me is, is believing in weird stuff a side effect of evolution, like the gall bladder, or is it a reflection of the fact that weird stuff exists?

    Reply

    1. Well, in my little corner of earthly paradise they never hit us for asking questions. They didn’t seem particularly geared up for entertaining them when it came to religion though. Yes — the number relationships! I only mentioned a fraction of all the possible examples. It is interesting, your dichotomy about “believing in weird stuff”. My own take is that humanity has evolved beyond the levels of understanding it could muster 3000 years ago around the questions of what are we, where did we come from, and what is our meaning and significance. In those times, sources where real knowledge existed employed myth and pictures and images to satisfy our yearning and our suitable response was ‘faith’. Now, we crave and need deep insight and understanding; faith is insufficient. So… belief becomes less relevant. Our approach, my approach, moves towards direct knowing and away from believing. If one knows something, one no longer has any need to either believe or disbelieve a thing. 🙂 Thanks much for reading.

      Reply

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